October 1, 2012
Gender Roles in North and South
It is no surprise that the novel North and South is one that frequently employs the literary style of placing two entities in juxtaposition as the very title coincides with the idea of comparison. Similarly, the chapter headings often mirror this literary style: “Masters and Men,” “Likes and Dislikes,” “Roses and Thorns”. The most significant of these comparisons is masculinity and femininity. Through the development of the novels female heroine Margaret Hale and through John Thornton’s perspectives of her, Emily Gaskell is in essence taking a stand against gender stereotypes and highlighting the underestimated value of female empowerment in Victorian society.
Throughout the novel Margaret Hale proves herself to be a strong, outspoken, capable and irrepressible spirit. These descriptions of Margaret however were more likely to be attributed to men in this time, as they were viewed as the superior gender. Gaskell describes Margaret as “full of a soft feminine defiance, always giving strangers the impression of haughtiness“ (58). In attempts to draw attention to the fact that Margaret is out of the ordinary with a personality unlike most women of her time, Gaskell incorporates Mr. Thornton’s first impressions of her as well. “He almost said to himself he did not like her, before their conversation ended; he tried so to compensate himself for the mortified feeling, that while he looked upon her with an admiration he could not repress” (59). This passage is significant because it shows the discontent Thornton feels due to Margaret’s reluctance to conform to stereotypes of femininity. However, even with feelings of discontent, Thornton looks at her with admiration showing he cannot help but be captivated with her strong-minded manner. Perhaps this is Gaskell’s way of showing us that if breaking gender stereotypes can be admired by a high class powerful man such as Thornton,...